Monday, November 24, 2014

What is all the buzz about?

From Europe to Washington, D.C., to Washington State and nearly every place between, the plight of honey bees has been on the main stage. After attending the Pollinator Summit (presented by the New Jersey Green Industry Council) and Dr. Daniel Potter’s keynote address at the New York State Turfgrass Association Turf and Grounds Exposition, I have come to learn a lot about the critical role pollinators play in our world. Like turf, there are internal and external stresses that can upset the balance of the hive and industry. Oh and there are politics, lots of politics. There is also science, emotion and a host of other factors involved in the discussion. While the issues continue to swarm, let’s take a quick peek at golf’s footprint in this issue.

What role does turf play in the pollinator discussion? Neonicotinoid class insecticides (neonics), often used as a preventative for white grubs, have been shown to have adverse effect on pollinators. The degree to which they affect the beneficial insects often has more to do with which side of the political issue you wish to argue. While this situation is unfortunate it definitely can create disruption in turf right here in the Northeast region. Just this past year alone, legislative measures took place in New Jersey, New York, Vermont, and Maine to ban the use of neonics. Beekeepers in Vermont joined one superintendent at the committee hearing to assist in educating the legislators as to the minimal role neonics play in pollinator issues. Stephanie Darnell, technical development manager, Bayer CropScience, cited a survey of beekeepers that placed pesticides as the seventh most important stress factor to those in the bee industry, with varroa mite at the top of the list.

While none of the above mentioned legislation efforts were successful, it opens up the “what if” discussion. Without this useful tool, turf managers could be pushed to use more volatile chemicals, such as organophosphate and carbamate insecticides, to control the same pests. These options are much less environmentally friendly, more costly and potentially more harmful to non-target pests.

What can turf managers do with regards to our friendly pollinators?

Develop stewardship practices: Learn about our role as land managers and the stresses regarding honey bees. Develop spray programs with the sensitivities of pollinators in mind.

Support research: Emotion and regulation can often outpace research needed to answer vital questions, and this issue is no exception. Remain vigilant regarding the latest research, and adjust your practices as needed.

Be part of the solution: It is so often overlooked that the golf industry undertakes environmental initiatives simply because it is the right thing to do. The changing landscape is often a negative impact on pollinators, leaving open green space that includes pollinator friendly vegetation as a critical part of the solution. Whether you choose to work with industry partners on specifically developed pollinator friendly programs, or become conscious of areas and plantings that you could incorporate on your property, avenues are available for our industry to be part of the solution.

I encourage GCSAA chapters to reach out to your state apiarists as a resource for information. Invite that individual to a meeting or education day to spread the word about pollinators in your area. The more you learn about the role your facilities play in the issue, the better chance you have at being part of the solution.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Joe's of yesterday...

I have the opportunity to spend time with GCSAA members and great people in the industry as part of my duties as your field staff representative. One such interaction more than a year and a half ago has stuck with me, and has been thrust back to the forefront of my mind for reasons both fortunate and unfortunate. 

This particular event was the Finger Lakes Association of GCS Elmer J.Michaels Scholarship and Research Tournament. I had the pleasure of spending the day with Joe Hahn, a legend in the golf and turf industry in New York, and a true gentleman. If you were to spend some time researching Hahn’s background, you would undoubtedly be impressed. I distinctly remember a tweet I sent out stating “our industry is where it is today because of the Joes of yesterday”.

Why do I reminisce of such an event?  The GCSA of New England takes the opportunity to recognize the members who have molded their association over the years at the Chapter Championship. Recognizing each retired participant, complete with first-tee-at-Augusta style bio, is a tremendous gesture and one that is obviously appreciated by those in attendance. In addition, the golf portion of the day has a category to decide the supremacy of the retired division. I’m sure if I were to look at the Past Presidents list or Distinguished Service Award winners, many of those at the Chapter Championship would be on one list or both. 

GCSA of New England President Mark Gagne recognizes the retired members at MCC.

The overwhelming reason I wanted to write about these particular events is the recent recognition of a long-time member of the Northeastern GCSA, Mark Printsky. Printsky retired from his role as superintendent for McGregor CC in Saratoga Springs, and returned shortly after to “work” with the staff doing facilities maintenance. In all he was at McGregor CC for more than30 years. Printsky went to sleep on June 8, 2014, and never woke up. His friends, family, and colleagues held a memorial event in his honor Aug. 23, with nearly 100 in attendance. Mary Beth Printsky likened her husband’s occupation as superintendent to that of firefighters, “more like a brotherhood, not a profession.” She told the group of the love Mark shared for the chapter and all its members, and the passion for the profession that bound them all close.

Northeastern GCSA President Brian Goudey announces the adoption of a chapter scholarship in memory of Mark Printsky.

The state of the industry, and most associations, is not what it was back in the day. The superintendents charged with leading the profession at any point have had to make changes and adapt to any number of challenges. Consider recognizing them for their accomplishments before it is too late. Remember, the industry and profession is where it is today because of the dedication and hard work they all did for us yesterday.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Do work and family always have to conflict?

I am often asked what I miss about being a superintendent. Involving my family in the sport is usually my first response. I always enjoyed the time spent on my course with my children and wife. I miss playing two or three holes (small children) or an impromptu lunch visit followed by one staying with me for hot afternoon syringe duty. Do work and family always have to conflict? Can they coexist?  Those are two questions that many facilities, chapters and even your national association are often faced with. Superintendents seem to have become more active in family events that it is harder to chisel out time to participate in industry-related events outside of the typical work hours. Many chapters work to bring the two together as well. Here are some of the many ways in which members are no longer forced to choose:


The chapter picnic is a popular one. Several chapters make the opportunity available during summer months. Often a low-key fun event striving for social time and family involvement, many take place at a local park. One such event is described by the chapter as “A great event to spend some fun quality time with your family, friends and fellow members. Please come and join us for a fun ball game, a swim in the pool, jumping in the bouncy castle and a delicious BBQ.” While shop talk often takes place, it is not always the superintendents leading the charge in this department. The significant others can get comfort from those with whom they can relate. Relax, unwind, and spend time with the family at a chapter picnic.

Sports event:

Here in the Northeast we are lucky to have some great, family friendly and affordable sports options. Whether it is minor league baseball or hockey, chapters have included these opportunities into their meeting schedule. Sports are another great avenue for social interaction with peers, and entertainment for the family as well. Hockey in golf’s offseason has become a successful staple of some chapter offerings. 

Parent/child golf event:

The Metropolitan GCSA hosts a parent/child golf event at where they also award and recognize the recipients of the chapter scholarships. It is a nine-hole scramble after working hours, at a child-friendly location with a simple meal to follow. The scholarships are presented, and the best part, those awarded are often playing in the event or have in the past.  Because of a limited field, this event often fills up quickly. What better way to promote the scholarship benefit than to involve the children in the event long before they are even eligible. It is also a great way to get on the course with family!

Amusement park:

The Connecticut AGCS hosts a day at a local amusement park. With ticket prices skyrocketing, a group event that includes an all you can eat buffet and parking for nearly half the price is a steal! In addition, an entire amusement park at the children’s disposal means entertainment for the family is guaranteed. I’ve done the amusement park thing with my family recently, and the children aren’t the only ones going to have a good night sleep. More importantly, time with the family is added to the CAGCS calendar, and the attendance continues to show the value the members see in the event.

It is often hard to make decisions to attend chapter meetings or events, and often family commitments are the reason. Perhaps there is a way family and chapter events can coexist after all?

Friday, June 27, 2014

Will Changes to "Waters of the U.S." Float Your Boat?

The need to update you on the EPA and Army Corp of Engineers proposed changes to “Waters of the U.S.” is great, but honestly I have focused on that frequently in many newsletters lately.  So this time I go off topic, sort of.  What I will focus on the unseen value GCSAA brings to you.  Not from my perspective, but from that of a GCSAA Class A member. How does a member go from newly appointed chapter president to an invited guest for a meeting with EPA District 1 within six days?  Let us look at a timeline on how that happened and where value plays a role:

  • June 9-11: GCSAA’s Chava McKeel, associate director, government relations attended meetings in Washington, D.C., relating to Clean Water Act, pesticide regulations, labor issues and more.
  • June 13: The Vermont Agency of Agriculture representative contacted McKeel (the connection was made earlier that week in D.C.), informing her of an EPA site visit to Vermont to discuss proposed changes to the “Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS).” They asked if there was a GCSAA representative who could attend?
  • June 14-16: Communications continued through weekend and into early following week.
  • June 17: I was invited to the meeting.
  • June 18: Board of Directors meeting with VtGCSA, which was GCSAA Class A member Jason Shattie’s first as chapter president.  During the meeting, an Email arrived offering an invitation for a Vermont superintendent to participate in the EPA meeting.  Shattie, as president, accepted the invitation
  • June 23: McKeel and I discussed WOTUS and the ramifications on the golf industry via conference call.
  • June 24: EPA Meeting Day. Shattie and I met at his facility (Burlington Country Club) in the early afternoon to discuss WOTUS and the ramifications to his facility and the golf industry. That evening, approximately 40 people met with EPA and Vermont State Department of Agriculture at University of Vermont.
  • June 25: I followed up with a visit to BCC during a rain event registering over 1.0 inches of precipitation.

Shattie’s Burlington CC is not unlike many golf courses across the country.  The property is part of a storm water runoff plan, including the surrounding neighborhood and the adjacent UVM campus.  This increased flow of water during periods of average and above-average rainfall causes more than the usual issues when it rains. The proposed changes to WOTUS are destined to create a significant burden at BCC.  The inclusion of these “ephemeral waters” may create an issue at most golf courses.  Originally designed to move water off the playing surfaces to underground drainage, surface drainage ditches, or into small waterways through out of play areas, these areas may now require a federal National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit to apply chemicals to.  In Shattie’s case, both of the following pictures represent areas that could fit the above profile:

Both areas require the responsible use of pesticides.  The permit will be expensive and take time to apply for and receive, if granted.  These will both affect the operations at his facility.  If these pictures represent similar areas at your facility, you could be impacted as well.

As the above timeline shows, actions being taken that you do not see can be impactful, and have tremendous value. Golf’s representation at that EPA meeting in Vermont left an impression on those in the state and at EPA; golf course superintendents are engaged in protecting the property we are entrusted to maintain. These efforts, in addition to communicating golf course superintendents as environmental stewards, are promoting golf as a solution, not the problem. The opportunity given to one member to learn about the challenges to golf with the new Waters of the U.S. and become engaged has given our industry an extremely motivated individual working to protect our profession. Could the next engaged member be you?


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Are you hiding from positive feedback?

Are you hiding from positive feedback?  Seems like a silly question doesn’t it?  But positive feedback seems to be a foreign concept in the golf course superintendent profession.  Sometimes these kind verbal phrases are referred to as compliments.  Maybe you have heard of them? 

Sarcasm aside now, let me explain my opening question.  As I communicate more directly with GCSAA members, I am often amazed by the lack of accessibility of superintendents on facility websites. The GCSAA database contains some information regarding you as members, but has hardly any details about your facilities. I typically find the facility on the web for general background information, including items such as accessibility (public/private), directions, or small course details. Inevitably I will try and find the superintendent on the website.  I have found that there are surprisingly few superintendents even mentioned.  Managers, club staff, golf pros, as well as others, are often prominently displayed, but not the superintendent. So I did a small study. 

I looked up five members randomly from three chapters (Rhode Island, Cape Cod, New England), and went to their facility’s website.  I looked for a mention of the superintendent and direct contact information. I found that the superintendent was mentioned by name on seven of 15 websites. I also found three of the 15 had direct contact information for the superintendent.  Surprising? In addition, four websites had direct contact information for multiple staff members, but not the superintendent!

Back to the opening question:  Are you hiding from positive feedback?  I think we have answered the first part with the above (very unscientific) study. It was a small sample size, but clearly it is hard for the general public to reach the superintendent. What about the positive feedback part?  Well, let’s face it; if someone has a negative comment it will be directed to anyone and everyone.  It will undoubtedly get back to you no matter how difficult you are to contact. But what if someone has a compliment about the course or for you? If your contact information is readily available, they can send it directly to you.  I suppose they could use a general contact for the club.  Do you think you would receive that message?  

Think about the communication tools available at your club, especially the website. Consider how they are affecting the flow of information, including potential positive feedback from golfers, guests or others. Advocate for yourself and, if needed, increase your level of self-promotion on the facility website.  Perhaps you might happen upon some of those compliment things I mentioned earlier!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Ice Resources

No secret here, the region stands to see a greater impact from ice this year than in recent history.  Many educational resources are being mobilized by allied associations and publications.  GCSAA is no exception.  The GCSAA staff has compiled valuable information from the many archived resources in an effort to deliver another source for you in the field.  Links to these resources are below:


While the region still waits to determine the potential impact of ice on the course in 2014, I hope you will find value in some of these articles.  As always, your GCSAA Field Staff will be at your service to help in any way we can.



Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Culture Shock: Yes or No?

As I sit and write, my colleague Brian Cloud, GCSAA’s South Central regional representative, is sending another storm our way with forecasts of a foot of snow or more, yet the calendar clearly shows golf season is on the way. Soon the phone will begin ringing with seasonal employees checking in to verify their positions for the upcoming season and ads will need to be placed for open spots on the crew. Soon the staff will descend on your maintenance facility and fill the winter void with life.

Ponder for a moment, what will this year’s staff be like? I am sure your staff makes such an indelible mark on your season that you can rattle off the good and bad as easily as the end of the year results of your favorite sports teams.  Championship year, high potential with disastrous results, good free agents (new hires) and bad deals, and the dreaded trip to the IR (injuries or accidents on the job are never a good thing, and rarely forgotten). That is what superintendents see and remember, but what does your staff see?  What do they remember?

What would your staff say the culture is like at your facility? I get a chance to visit many facilities; what would I see when I enter your facility? What is the vibe like? Workplace culture can aide with staff motivation, level of engagement, productivity, and can help minimize employee conflicts. Simple physical cues can aid in a positive culture. Is your shop clean and organized?  Is your equipment clean and maintained? Do you place a priority on care of equipment no matter how old it is? If your employees respect the equipment and their environment, they will transfer that respect to their jobs.

Is there an emphasis on being on time?  When I was a superintendent, my motto was: “Early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable.” However, mottos are no good without accountability. Is there a policy for tardiness, and is it adhered to? A lack of accountability can undo every good effort to build a culture. 

Who do you want your staff to emulate? Would you be happy if your staff tried to be like you? Are you a “do what I say, not what I do” type, or are you a model for what you want your staff to achieve? Good leaders hold themselves to the highest standards. Your staff will notice any time you stray from that standard, and they will react accordingly. They will hold you accountable, maybe not in words, but in actions. 

There are many ways to adapt a culture for your specific needs, but your staff will dictate the success of that culture not you. A staff of Baby Boomers will not react positively to a loose culture with too much flexibility, while a military-style approach might not get the most out of a staff full of Gen X and Gen Y workers. Get to know your staff personally. Have fun when the time is right. Stress can take a toll on a staff. Keeping things light in those times can often have positive results. If you have built the respect within your staff, they will understand when the light and loose time is over and back to business must happen. Engage them, as they will almost tell you what type of culture will motivate them.  Responding to their needs will develop a workplace culture that will maximize productivity.

Consider the Red Sox 2012 epic collapse as fried chicken and beer stories raged in the media. In 2013, they were World Series Champions. Credit was heaped on the people, new system, and the change in culture. Be a leader and set a standard for excellence at your facility. Develop guidelines that will maintain structure and maximize productivity. Hold yourself and others accountable for all actions. Finally, during the golf season you’ll spend more time your staff than with your friends and families, so keep it light. A good culture is self-perpetuating and contagious. You will not have to ask people to adhere to it; they will want to be a part of it.